(Stars and Stripes)

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WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs hit a bleak milestone Friday when it reported the coronavirus has killed more than 3,000 of its patients.

The VA reported that 3,044 veterans and 53 employees had died of the virus as of Friday afternoon. That comes less than 40 days since deaths surpassed 2,000 on July 28. The agency reported its first coronavirus-related death March 14.

In total, the VA has reported nearly 53,400 coronavirus cases since March, and 47,000 of those patients have recovered. The number of still-active cases includes 2,600 veterans and 164 VA employees, according to available public data.

Many of the active cases remain in southern states, after a surge of cases in the South earlier this summer. Among the 10 VA facilities grappling with the most active cases, two hospitals are in Florida, two in Texas and two in Georgia. The North Chicago VA reported the most active cases Friday, with 198.

The deaths reported by the VA don’t account for all coronavirus deaths among veterans. For example, the department doesn’t include patients of state-run veterans homes. Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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